Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman

The Life She Was GivenThe Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Life She Was Given is a frustrating and sad story about a young girl who is forced to stay in her parent's attack and then she is sold off to the circus. The author's descriptions of the 'Freak Show' characters and their lifestyle is vivid and shocking. The young girl, Lilly faces unimaginable abuse, yet she still manages to have a deep compassion, especially for animals. The author alternates between the story of Lilly and the story of Julia, another young girl who faced the cruelty of her parents. After the death of her parents, Julia begins to unravel a mystery about a sister who died, but she struggles to make sense of the clues she discovers.

I really enjoyed this book, and the only reason I am giving it 4 stars is because the ending felt awkward, the resolution dragged on and left the reader with so many unanswered questions.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fiction.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Before We Were YoursBefore We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This haunting tale will stay with you long after you finish reading, especially when you realize the story is based on real events that actually occurred. The book is split into a modern day story and a story set in 1930's Memphis Tennessee. Twelve year old Rill and her little siblings were happily raised on the Mississippi River by two loving parents, but when something goes wrong with her mother's pregnancy Rill is left to fend for her siblings as her parents rush off to the hospital. Rill and the children are taken by the police and brought to the Tennessee Children's Home Society, an orphanage run by a despicable person named Miss Tann. The children there are mistreated and sold into illegal private adoptions. Rill is powerless as she watches her siblings being taken from her. Avery Stafford was born into wealth and privilege, her father the esteemed Senator is grooming Avery for her eventual turn to run for office. Avery faces pressure from her family to carry on the Stafford name, and she struggles to meet everyone's expectations until she has an encounter with a very strange woman in a nursing home named May Weathers. Avery begins to uncover a connection between May Weathers and her grandmother, and she knows she has to uncover the truth. This story is captivating. At times I felt like reaching through the pages to comfort these poor children and to fight the injustice they faced. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed “A Gentleman in Moscow”. This story had captivating characters and the writing was superb. The author’s descriptions were so vivid; reading became an experience for my senses. I could almost taste the food as I read. After the Russian revolution, the main character, the Count, is living in the Metropol hotel under house arrest, yet he manages to have such a full life. The Count lives through significant political and cultural changes in his beloved Russia, and yet he is able to remain positive and always a gentleman. This story is lengthy, at 480 pages, but the story never lags. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fiction.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris

The Edge of LostThe Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what I expected when I chose this book, but as a fan of historical fiction it sounded intriguing. With twists and turns along the way, this is a story of Shan, a young boy struggling to get by in Ireland after his parents both die. Shan winds up with his angry uncle, and he uses his talents to earn money in Irish pubs as a gifted singer and entertainer. Shan finds himself alone on a boat to America and an Italian family takes him in. The author weaves a great deal of historical detail into the story, including the life of immigrants, the mobster gangs that controls sections of the city and the less than glamorous life of vaudeville stars. Shan finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, but his strong belief in loyalty prevents him from turning in the real criminals. Shan winds up alone and in prison, but he is able to hold on to his humanity and not only rescue himself, but he helps to reduce a young girl who needs him. For me, the low point of this story is the lack of believability at times, but the characters are interesting, and the settings of speakeasies and Alcatraz island add a novelty that make the story more interesting.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ove is difficult, Ove is frustrating, Ove is cranky and at times downright awful and Ove is the kind of person that will restore your hope in humanity. I absolutely loved this book. Frederick Backman has a gift of making the most cantankerous characters into lovable and memorable ones with just a few incredibly well placed words. I have become a huge fan of this author. This little gem of a book is a perfect escape to a place where rules matter and people like Ove do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. All of the characters in the book are quirky and lovable, but you will have a special place in your heart for Ove. Sometimes I am skeptical if a book has a ton of excellent ratings, I worry that I will be disappointed, but A Man Called Ove lived up to the hype. I highly recommend this book.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Orphan's Tale: A Novel by Pam Jenoff

The Orphan's Tale: A NovelThe Orphan's Tale: A Novel by Pam Jenoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Orphan's Tale follows two different women, Astrid and Noa, as the ravages of war and the consequences of their decisions finds them both in need of protection in an unlikely place, at a circus. Astrid is a jew hiding from Nazi's and Noa has been thrown out by her family after becoming pregnant from a german soldier. Both women are full of secrets, and unable to hide from their past. To make matters worse, Noa has rescued a jewish baby, who she calls Theo. Astrid begrudgingly agrees to train Noa as an aerialist, and Noa finds a way to move past her fear, sailing through the air on the trapeze. The Orphans Tale is an interesting new look at occupied Europe through the lens of a circus and all who find shelter under the big top. I enjoyed The Orphans Tale, and I would recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

In the Fullness of time: One Woman's Story of Growth and EmpowermentIn the Fullness of time: One Woman's Story of Growth and Empowerment by Katherine P. Stillerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the Fullness of Time is a rich and well researched story that weaves the struggle for women's suffrage with the personal story of Hattie Barton, a young wife and mother in South Carolina. Hattie feels strongly about suffrage, and finds herself at the crossroads of history. With her extraordinary sister-in-law Alice, Hattie witnesses firsthand the passion and commitment of suffragists and decides to get involved. The story is full of interesting historical details, references to obvious events like the Spanish Flu epidemic and the U.S. entry into World War 1, the book also pulls from more obscure references like the work of renown physician Joseph Lister and the infamous 'redeemers' of the reconstruction era south. The details add a richness to the story, from the purple and gold of the suffragists to the red rose of anti suffragists, the author paints a picture of history that is detailed and interesting. As Hattie struggles with her feelings for her ex-fiance, her husband Charles is forced to deal with his unresolved feeling for his first love, Julia. Although the relationship between Hattie and Charles is central tot he story, the author does seem to rush through their relationship details, and tends to focus more on the fight for suffrage. Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Orphan Number Eight by Kim van Alkemade

Orphan Number EightOrphan Number Eight by Kim van Alkemade
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Orphan # 8 was Rachel Rabinowitz, but she didn't start out as an orphan. This story follows Rachel's life, through all of the ugly twists and turns at the beginning, to the kindness of strangers who helped her along the way and eventually to Rachel herself as she must come to terms with her own past in order to face her uncertain future. Rachel's story exposes some of the ugly truths about our society, including medical experiments on groups of orphans, to the exclusion and negative societal attitudes about homosexuals, but her story also inspires hope through the kindest of strangers or even the hopeful advice from a holocaust survivor. Ultimately Rachel must decide for herself how to deal with the woman who inflicted cruel and unnecessary experiments on her as a child, when that same doctor is admitted to her ward in the hospital. In her treatment of this doctor, Rachel must confront the ghosts of her past and find the courage to deal with her own health issues that she has been neglecting. The writing was well done, but felt somewhat repetitive at times. The story switched easily from past to present with great historical details. Rachel's story is all the more tragic when considering that while the novel is fiction, according to the author's website, medical research on children in orphanages was a common practice, and that there really are children who grew up like Rachel. I really enjoyed this story and would recommend it to any fans of historical fiction.


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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith

The Girl from VeniceThe Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fast paced story of adventure, intrigue and love during the final days of World War 2, 'The Girl from Venice' was an interesting and entertaining read. Another reader descriptor the authors writing style as "sparse" and I would have to agree. There were a few action scenes that were difficult to follow, but overall the book had interesting characters and a few twists and turns to keep in interesting. The story follows Cenzo, a fisherman from a small village outside of Venice. When Cenzo finds a girl floating in the lagoon his adventure begins. Fans of crime fiction will like the plot and historical fiction fans will love the settings and minor characters. 'The Girl from Venice' is an interesting read.

I won this book through Goodreads' giveaway program in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray

America's First DaughterAmerica's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Behind every successful man is a good woman. Most often we take that quote to mean a wife, but in this lengthy tribute to one of the great icons of American history we learn about the two women who each helped Thomas Jefferson to achieve great success, Martha "Patsy" Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. The book is told from Patsy's point of view. From their narrow escape of the British during the American Revolution to their first hand accounts of the rebellions and ultimate revolution in France, Patsy and her famous father are witness to some of the most iconic moments in history. The author is masterful at conveying the ambiguity of feelings surrounding slavery and its ties to the land of Virginia farmers. At 624 pages, it is a lengthy read, but the authentic language and vivid descriptions immerse the reader into the lives of Jefferson and his family. Patsy's relationship with her father was a lifelong struggle between her admiration and devotion to him and her own desires for independence. Patsy also struggles to accept her father's relationship with Sally Hemmings. Patsy serves in several roles for her father, both at home and his political life. In addition to Jefferson the story includes other notable figures like James Madison and his irrepressible wife Dolly, and the legendary french hero, Lafayette, and the author brings these historical figures to life with honesty and at times humor, to help the reader develop a new understanding of the country's earliest leaders. I highly recommend this book to fans of historical fiction.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A.J Fikry is an interesting character, he is flawed and not entirely likeable, but there is something unique about him. The author does a tremendous job of introducing us to A.J. with all his quirks, and he ultimately becomes a very endearing character. This story looks at the themes of grief and loss as well as redemption and forgiveness, but it doesn’t labor over these themes in an obvious way. Each of the supporting characters add to the story, as they share a love of books and together they show us the importance of the people in our lives. As a self-confessed bibliophile I really enjoyed this book.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

The Mistress by Danielle Steel

The MistressThe Mistress by Danielle Steel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lately I have been disappointed by her new releases, but "The Mistress" is a throwback to the more traditional style of writing that Danielle Steel fans are used to. 'The Mistress' is full of incredibly glamorous and completely unrealistic people who travel in the world of fine art and luxury yachts. The story was painfully obvious at times and the characters are shallow and stereotypical, but it is fun to vicariously spend some time in the world of the super rich. There is no better way to waste an afternoon than reading a Danielle Steel novel.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Small Great Things

Small Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once again Jodi Picoult shows great skill in exploring some of the most difficult and emotional subjects without preaching or forcing a viewpoint on the reader.  In "Small Great Things" we learn the story of Ruth, a dedicated labor and delivery nurse. Ruth carefully negotiates her position as a black woman in a predominately white world, until a tragedy at work that rips apart her carefully crafted world. Picoult is a master storyteller who is able to give the perspectives of a white supremacist family who sees Ruth as a murderer, and they are desperately seeking revenge. We get to know Turk and Brit, and somehow Picoult manages to help us see into their unique lifestyle and world views, while still keeping their humanity as grieving parents. The readers also get to meet Kennedy, a white public defender who sees herself as a champion choosing to help the less fortunate, but Ruth's case forces Kennedy to address her own feelings about race and the subtle bias that affects so much of our lives. Kennedy struggles with this newfound awareness as she prepares Ruth's defense. 

The storytelling in this book is powerful, and Picoult is masterful at helping the reader relate to the characters, even Turk and Brit with their horrific world view and their all-consuming grief and anger. Perhaps the most compelling emotion for me was the frustration that Ruth feels from a system that fails to show her the loyalty and decency she has earned, and her emotions are so raw and real that readers will have a visceral reaction to the anguish Ruth feels. I hate to repeat the over-used book review phrase "I couldn't put it down" but I really couldn't put it down. I was so captivated by this story and all of its nuance and depth of emotion that at one point while reading I realized I was actually holding my breath to see what would happen next. 

Small Great Things should be added to everyone's to-read list, it is a powerful story that will captivate readers.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ape House by Sara Gruen

Ape HouseApe House by Sara Gruen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up Ape House because I was a fan of Sara Gruen's earlier work. This book taps into our fascination with apes, and the author does a tremendous job of infusing the apes with unique personalities, but some of the human characters in the book are not as well developed. The story begins when John, a reporter, has the opportunity to interview the apes and their handler, scientist Isabel Duncan. John is fascinated by the apes ability to communicate with him through sign language. He makes a genuine connection to the bonobos. Only hours after the interview, a terrorist bombing at the research facility severely injures Isabel and leads to the removal of the apes. John has to deal with challenges at work and at home, and ultimately quits his job and moves to L.A. to be with his wife Amanda, an aspiring novelist who is working on screenwriting for a television pilot. The relationship of John and Amanda is awkward and does not add greatly to the overall plot of the story. Isabel is devastated both from her physical injuries and from the loss of her bonobo 'family' so she begins an exhaustive search for the apes. John and Isabel meet up again when the apes are used in a zealously marketed reality TV stunt called Ape House. There are numerous references in the story to the animal rights protestors, and 'militant vegans' that use stereotypical descriptions and seem to trivialize the work of animal rights activists. While I did enjoy the book, many of the characters were under-developed, and the end of the book felt a bit forced.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

The Award by Danielle Steel

The AwardThe Award by Danielle Steel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am becoming increasingly convinced that Danielle Steele is simply using ghost writers and using her name to sell books. The Award was disappointing. The plot was simplistic and very obvious, the characters were shallow and uninteresting. I usually enjoy historical work, but this story felt so artificial. The beginning of the story felt authentic, but the entire second half of the book simply dragged on.  I almost didn't finish.  
I used to be a fan of Danielle Steel, but I am not certain if I will continue to read any her new work. I would not recommend this book.

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Wildwater Walking Club: Back on Track by Claire Cook

The Wildwater Walking Club: Back on Track (Book 2 of The Wildwater Walking Club series)The Wildwater Walking Club: Back on Track by Claire Cook
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Wildwater Walking Club: Back on Track

We have all been there in our lives, struggling to find our own purpose, in Claire Cook’s most recent book, The Wildwater Walking Club: Back on Track, the gals from the Wildwater Walking Club help each other through their own struggles. Noreen, Tess and Rosie hold each other accountable and encourage each other. They are the kind of friends that everyone needs in their life.

The Wildwater Walking Club: Back on Track shares the power of friends and the need to go beyond your comfort zone, but it does so in a light-hearted and fun way. Claire Cook is the master of reinvention and in this book she once again shows us why she earned that title. The Wildwater Walking Club: Back on Track is the continuing story of Noreen, Tess and Rosie who are neighbors that have banded together through their daily walks. In her usual sassy and casual style, Claire Cook makes reading feel like a chat with your best girl friends.

Each chapter starts with Noreen’s daily step count, and those of us sporting our own fitbit can relate to that daily goal. As Noreen, Tess and Rosie ‘step’ their way across Europe, they remind us of the importance of having goals, making a plan to get there, and most of all enjoying time with good friends along the way.

With vivid descriptions of the ship and each stop along the way, readers will feel like they are on a river cruise themselves. Noreen, Tess and Rosie share a love of lavender and readers can almost smell the lavender as they read descriptions of the lush lavender fields in France. Cook also incudes practical tips and recipes at then end of several chapters so readers can recreate them and share in the magic of lavender for themselves.

Part escape, part self-help guide, and all fun – this book is a great way to vicariously travel with Noreen and her friends and perhaps help readers find their purpose too.

I highly recommend this book to everyone who could use some positive motivation in his or her life.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew's Last StandMajor Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Major Pettigrew is an honorable man who struggles to come to terms with a changing world, while still holding true to his core values. With an interesting group of characters, the author presents a small rural village in England and the struggles and prejudices that make up their daily lives. Major Pettigrew is a widower, dealing with the recent death of his brother, and growing feelings of affection he has for Mrs. Ali who owns the local shop for groceries. With humor and grace, the author explores the challenges of getting older, the excitement of new love, and the struggle of racism, all with subtlety and depth. It is hard not to fall in love with Major Pettigrew. I would highly recommend this book.

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Dog Day Wedding by Rich Amooi

Dog Day WeddingDog Day Wedding by Rich Amooi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A light-hearted but very predictable comedy, this was an easy read with lovable characters. The story begins as Giovanni is left at the alter by a very disagreeable and materialistic woman. Natalie is a beautiful police officer who happens to live next door to Giovanni. After a few obvious twists and turns, the two realize they have feelings for each other, but Natalie is already engaged to Jaks, an ambitious young district attorney. Despite being extremely predictable and somewhat corny at times, overall I enjoyed this book. If you like romantic comedy - you will enjoy Dog Day Wedding.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie Was HereBritt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fredrik Backman is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors, and "Britt-Marie Was Here" is another fantastic example of why. 
Britt-Marie is a character that was introduced to us in "My Grandmother asked me to Tell You She's Sorry" as a difficult woman who lived in the same building. This story starts where the last book left off for Britt-Marie. 
Although many people describe her as a 'nag-bag' who does not have a sense of humor, Britt-Marie is really a very loving, yet very misunderstood woman. Britt-Marie is dealing with the challenges of marital infidelity by her longtime husband, and this motivates Britt-Marie to accept a job in the tiny forgotten town of Borg. 
Britt-Marie uses her work ethic and no-nonsense approach to make her way in this very unfamiliar situation. According to Britt-Marie, baking soda can fix almost any problem. This charming story will capture your heart as you realize that there is so much more to Britt-Marie than meets the eye. Britt-Marie is able to face some of her biggest fears and she makes an indelible mark on this small town. The author has a unique style of writing that is direct, but infused with humor, warmth and feeling. I highly recommend this story to anyone who enjoys fiction.

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